PORTLAND, Ore. – One of the largest crackdowns on cockfighting in Northwest history resulted in more than 50 arrests across Oregon and Washington over the weekend.
The illegal sport that pits fighting roosters against each other in battles to the death typically involves gambling and often is the site of drug deals.
Federal law prohibiting the blood sport has been beefed up to make it a felony under the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act that went into effect last May.
Federal agents joined state law enforcement officers across the two states to arrest 51 people on various charges, including racketeering and drug trafficking.
A federal grand jury issued 17 separate indictments that list 63 people in documents unsealed Monday. The two-year investigation, involving more than 500 federal agents and police, was dubbed "Operation Red Rooster" in Oregon and "Operation Tattered Wing" in Washington state.
"To my knowledge, this is the biggest in the Northwest," said Jim Mendhenhall, special agent in charge of the U.S. Agriculture Department's Office of Inspector General.
About half the people indicted were scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Portland while the others were set for appearances in federal court in Medford and Eugene, and in Seattle and Yakima, Wash.
The charges include conspiracy, operating an illegal gambling business, multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act, interstate travel in aid of a racketeering enterprise, and various drug-trafficking crimes.
U.S. Attorney Karin Immergut called it "a very brutal sport" that carries a serious public health risk. The arrests also show "the close relationship between cockfighting and drug-trafficking in the Pacific Northwest."
She said about 50 guns, more than $100,000 in cash and at least 700 roosters were seized during the arrests.
The indictments listed 12 cockfighting derbies in Grand Ronde, Molalla, Sunny Valley, Warm Springs and Woodburn in Oregon, and Wapato, Sunnyside and Prosser in Washington.
Those indicted face up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines on individual charges related to the cockfighting. The drug charges carry prison terms ranging from mandatory minimums of 5 to 10 years, to a maximum life sentence with fines ranging from $2 million to $4 million.